Last of the human freedoms

Last of the human freedoms

The last of the human freedoms

In ‘Humanity’s search for meaning’ Viktor E Frankl says “Everything can be taken from a human but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Frank Sinatra sang about it, religions are founded on it. Steinbeck wrote about it in all his stories. It is the essential heart of education, the deliberator of democracy. Freedom is an attitude first, a behaviour second. Faith is wholly attitude.

Odd, then, that those interviewing people for jobs never mention the word. Mysterious that we judge a person’s ability to perform on evidence of past attitudes, not present or future ones. It’s easier that way, of course, easier and safer. Your predictions about someone can be so wrong, the past can be so, well, past. Most people look for the sunrise with its herald of newness, it’s certainty of growth. I look for the sunset. To me it is a promise of tomorrow because that’s my attitude.

The arts, music, painting, are attitudes. Sensitivity, one of the greatest gifts humans have – and one we neglect – is an attitude. I will not feel if I do not care, nor will I care unless I feel. If attitude is so prescriptive how can we say it is a freedom? How can our loves and hates be choices if our attitudes decide their courses? The answer is that enslavement to a concept of any sort is an attitude – an attitude that we can determine. Attitude declares interest, ability, kindness, attention. Above all, attitude displays openness.

Attitude pervades life but it is about attitude to work that I want to ponder today. The major criterion for employing someone is that they have the right attitude. We qualify – as in the ‘assess’ meaning of that word – everyone who comes to us for help. Like an employer we want to be assured of some intellect and common sense. Experience counts very little with us, as it should do with any employer. Intelligent, motivated people learn, that is their asset. Experienced fools are still fools.

A decent intellect plus a modest enthusiasm for life will generate enough creativity to know that this part of the brain can be developed. But attitude towards the job, the organisation, to work itself and to life in general are the real criteria for hiring a colleague. I often refused to tell senior people what their job was going to be. Initially somewhat confusing (“How do i know what I am supposed to do?”) they quickly cottoned on to the idea that it was their choice. They chose their job.

Their second thought was to see what business was going really well. ‘Side with the winning team’ is a natural inclination for all of us. But it was their third thought that I was looking for. That was a choice of the business that was struggling. That told me their attitude was to create, to build, to lead. That told me their attitude was right. That told me they were right for our business.

You cannot ask someone about their attitude. They know the stock answers, the ones that are meaningless. Attitudes don’t emerge in words but in deeds. We all know the person who proclaims himself to be successful. Poor chap, he has to, nobody would know otherwise. And, of course, his proclamation is a false one. Beautiful people don’t have to tell you they are beautiful.

To discover an attitude ask about real life experiences, present some dreamt-up scenarios, walk down the path of a story and let them finish it. Source a sense of humour, get them to tell you about the sunrise and the sunset. Engage in such a way that they take on the role of interviewer; you, the role of interviewee. Offer them scope to dream, a platform to persuade, a hope to cherish.

Draw out from them the gifts they will bring to your business. Build their stature above yours.

And see what their attitude is to all that.

It will tell you whether to hire them.

Terrific Mentors International does not do executive search but we often interview final candidates for senior jobs, with the employer present, to demonstrate a subject’s attitude.